Tallahassee crime victims remember loved ones while advocating for trauma treatment centers
Carla McClellan spent most of her life caught up in cycles of trauma before she found healing through crime victim advocacy.
McClellan, 38, is a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor who now helps other survivors.
At age 15, she ran away to escape the violence and chaos in her home. "I was in years of unsafe situations and survived a lot of sexual assault and trafficking and drugs and guns," she said. “Even after I got out of that situation, I still kind of gravitated toward unsafe partners.”
McClellan was among about a dozen survivors and victims' rights advocates who gathered at Lake Ella Park Saturday to remember loved ones lost to violent crime, share personal stories, and call for more trauma-focused treatment in Leon County.
“Our options are really limited in this town,” McClellan said. “We need more therapists that are trauma-focused.”
“We’ve got Apalachee Center, a state-of-the-art mental health center that helps people who do not have health insurance. If they even added a trauma wing, that would be huge,” she said, adding the same goes for the Tallahassee Memorial Behavioral Health Center.
McClellan is a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, an organization that works to advocate for survivors and those who’ve lost friends and family to violent crime. The organization’s local chapter organized Saturday’s vigil to mark the end of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.
Advocates say Tallahassee needs a trauma recovery center, where victims can get counseling, substance abuse treatment and other services.
“With my particular situation, I was sent to different psychiatric centers and drug and alcohol rehab centers, and all of these different places,” McClellan said. “If I had just gone to trauma treatment, that in itself would’ve fixed a lot of the other problems.”
In Leon County, there are a number of resources for people who are trying to leave an abusive relationship or escape domestic violence. Refuge House and AngelWingz Family Crisis and Intervention Center offer emergency shelters for women leaving abusive relationships. Those organizations also offer a variety of services, including work with a victim’s advocate who can help them leave and navigate the legal system.
Both the Tallahassee Police Department and Leon County Sheriff’s Office have victims’ advocates.
McClellan advises anyone who's experiencing domestic violence to seek help. “It’s not worth risking your life or your sanity to stay in an unsafe situation," she said. “There really is healing on the other side, especially when you find groups like these where we can heal together, cry together, laugh together, hug.”
A common sentiment that survivors shared was that there's power in helping others through their own healing journeys. McClellan says it’s the “wounded-healer aspect” of recovering from trauma. “We end up helping others heal because of what we’ve gone through.”
The vigil also served as a place for those who've lost loved ones to crime to share their personal stories. In 2012, Dianne Daniels' 33-year-old daughter and nine-year-old grandson were killed in a car accident. They were rear-ended by a driver who was under the influence of a synthetic drug called "spice."
“It was a senseless death,” Daniels said. “It could’ve been prevented.”
Daniels and her family decided not to become paralyzed in bitterness. They’ve since started a scholarship fund called the Keila and Vincent Memorial Foundation. Every year, scholarship recipients are recognized at a fundraising banquet.
“We do that in honor of my grandson because he would never be able to go to college," she said. "We did the banquet portion for my daughter because she liked to plan parties."
Doris Strong’s father was fatally shot by her stepbrother. “I went through a journey of bitterness,” she said. “Because of my faith, I had to forgive the person that murdered my dad.”
Strong says forgiving was important for healing and it led her to share her story with people who’ve committed similar crimes. “With that happening, I started going into the prison, talking to the guys about what it’s like to lose a loved one and everything we lose.”
After the vigil, Carla McClellan shared an excerpt of a poem she wrote about a lifetime of trauma and healing. She says she never imagined that she'd own a business and advocate for others.
By 35, healing finally begins
leaving the chaos and violence
giving myself a chance
not only surviving, but thriving
no longer dying, finally alive
successful beyond belief.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how much we can thrive once we heal.”